Pterosaurs, Mesozoic flying reptiles, were long considered to have been almost exclusively confined to aerial niches, with only limited mobility when on the ground (Unwin, 2005). Two lines of evidence have challenged this view. (1) A rapidly accumulating and increasingly diverse pterosaur track record (pteraichnites) that spans more than 80 million years. (2) Digital modelling, based on skeletal remains and tracks, of pterosaur’s terrestrial locomotory abilities. These studies show that pterosaurs used a flat-footed, four-legged, but nevertheless highly efficient, stance and gait. They have also uncovered some unexpected behaviours, such as a quadrupedal launch, that point to a far more effective ability to take-off and land than previously suspected. These new findings suggest that pterosaurs played a much bigger role in Mesozoic terrestrial communities than previously realised (Witton, 2013), but the extent and evolutionary significance of this phenomenon remains unclear and controversial.
This project will use a multidisciplinary approach to reassess the contribution of pterosaurs to Mesozoic continental biotas and their impact on co-evolving groups such as early birds (Benson et al, 2014). New techniques including photogrammetric ichnology will form part of the first systematic analysis of the pterosaur track record. This work will generate a range of data sets that capture fine detail of prints and tracks that can be combined with contextual data including sedimentology, stratigraphy and associated ichnological and body fossil evidence.
These data sets will underpin three complementary strands of the PhD: (1) reconstruction of the locomotory styles and abilities of pterosaurs (stance, gait, speed, take-of and landing modes) based on key sites in the USA and Europe. (2) The first comprehensive integration of the ichnological and body fossil record of pterosaurs via 3D digitisation of prints and well preserved skeletal remains. (3) Identification and reconstruction of specific behaviours (e.g. feeding, flocking) set within current interpretations of the palaeoenvironments in which they occurred.
Results of these three studies will be combined with data on the relationships and temporal and biogeographic distribution of pterosaurs to determine the extent to which they contributed to Mesozoic terrestrial biotas and influenced the evolution of contemporaneous groups such as birds.
UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.
Available for UK and EU applicants only.
Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility: http://www.nerc.ac.uk/skills/postgrad/
How to Apply:
Please follow refer to the How to Apply section at http://www2.le.ac.uk/study/research/funding/centa/how-to-apply-for-a-centa-project
and use the Geography Apply button to submit your PhD application.
Upload your CENTA Studentship Form in the proposal section of the application form.
In the funding section of the application please indicate you wish to be considered for NERC CENTA Studentship.
Under the proposal section please provide the name of the supervisor and project title/project code you want to apply for.
Benson, R.B.J. et al. 2014. Competition and constraint drove Cope's rule in the evolution of giant flying reptiles. Nature Communications, 5, 3567, doi: 10.1038/ncomms4567.
Falkingham, P.L. & Gatesy S.M. 2014. The birth of a dinosaur footprint: Subsurface 3D motion reconstruction and discrete element simulation reveal track ontogeny. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, 18279-18284.
Lockley, M.G. et al. 2016. Theropod courtship: large scale physical evidence of display arenas and avian-like scrape ceremony behaviour by Cretaceous dinosaurs. Nature: Scientific Reports, 6, nb 18952, doi:10.1038/srep18952.
Unwin, D.M. 2005. The Pterosaurs from Deep Time. Pi Press, New York, 347pp.
Witton, M.P. 2013. Pterosaurs: natural history, evolution, anatomy. Princeton University Press. 291pp.